28/02/2015: West Brom 1-0 Saints
Saints' poor form continued at the Hawthorns with another defeat. The visitors were outfought in the early stages, and couldn't break West Brom down, despite some attacking improvements in the second-half.
Ronald Koeman switched things up by starting with three at the back. Full-backs Nathaniel Clyne and the returning Ryan Bertrand hugged the touchline in an attempt to stretch the pitch. Dusan Tadic and Sadio Mane played behind Graziano Pelle, with Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama anchoring in the centre.
Koeman's plans were undone inside the first two minutes. Saido Berahino latched on to a knock-down on the edge of the area, hammering into the roof of the net for 1-0. West Brom unsettled Saints with some aggressive pressing during the first 20 minutes. Saints just couldn't get any rhythm going. The Baggies didn't offer much going forward after the goal, but had their opponents pinned back. Saints' patient short passing game wasn't working.
With West Brom sitting back there really was no need for three centre-backs anymore. Koeman made a much needed alteration on 25, bringing Eljero Elia on for Florin Gardos and reverting to 4-2-3-1. The visitors did improve slightly after the switch. Mane shot wide of the near post as Saints went a bit more direct. At the other end Craig Dawson headed straight at Fraser Forster from a free-kick.
On 30 Craig Gardner looked to be in the clear when he chested the ball down in the area, but couldn't quite get his shot away. Saints' approach play improved slightly towards the end of the first-half. Tadic tried to catch Ben Foster out before Mane blasted over.
Saints made another change at half-time with Steven Davis coming on for Wanyama. Koeman's side looked a bit more composed on the ball in the 2nd half, dominating possession. The front four were involved in some intricate play, but clear cut chances were rare.
On 61 Schneiderlin curled a free-kick just past the post. A minute later Elia headed over from a deep cross. Pelle looked to be in for a certain goal on 68, but somehow couldn't quite get on the end of Bertrand's cross which fizzed right along the line. Later on Schneiderlin had another set piece opportunity, but shot straight at Foster. On 80 West Brom had a rare chance, with Darren Fletcher firing over from inside the area. Back at the other end Pelle shot low and tamely at Foster from Schneiderlin's knock-down. Saints seemed to run out of steam towards the end of the game, but did create one final chance deep into stoppage time. Elia blasted wide on the angle following a hopeful long ball.
Saints showed signs of improvement going forward in the second-half, but it still wasn't enough. In terms of points we are still fairly close to the top four, but based on recent performances you'd have to think we probably don't have what it takes to qualify for the Champions League. Koeman got it wrong with his initial setup, but he needed to try something different. Credit to him for changing it back so quickly. Saints were all over West Brom for the last hour or so. It's something to build on, but you sense it will be difficult for us to develop that cutting edge that will be needed to overhaul the likes of Man United and Arsenal.
Forster: 6. Quiet game once again
Gardos: 6. Hadn't really done anything wrong, but a change in formation was necessary so he had to come off
Fonte: 6. Nearly let Brown Ideye through once, but on the whole did ok A few good headed clearances
Yoshida: 6. Looked fairly composed on the ball
Clyne: 6. Didn't offer enough going forward early on. A bit better in the second half. Generally battled hard
Bertrand: 7. Made a few positive runs forward. Got in a couple of dangerous crosses
Schneiderlin: 7. Suffered from a lack of composure on the ball early on. Range of passing improved after the first half-hour
Wanyama: 6. Imposed himself fairly well in midfield during the first-half
Tadic: 5. A few decent bits of skill, but was nullified for much of the game
Mane: 6. Took up some good positions, and some clever touches. Just missing that killer instinct in the box
Pelle: 4. Confidence looks completely shot right now. Not aggressive enough and finishing poor
Elia: 6. Attempted a few direct runs through the West Brom backline and showcased some good technique, but like the other attackers the final product was lacking
Davis: 5. Some intelligent passing in the early part of the 2nd half, but a bit sloppy later in the game
Long: 5. Made some good runs, but rarely used the ball to good effect. Might need a few more games to get back to 100%
West Brom - Berahino (2)
Attendance - 25,303 (2,700 Saints fans)
Referee - Phil Dowd (replaced at half-time by Graham Scott)
West Brom: Foster, Dawson, McAuley, Lescott, Brunt, Morrison (Sessegnon 72), Yacob, Fletcher, Gardner, Ideye (Baird 88), Berahino (Mulumbu 56)
Subs not used: Myhill, Wisdom, Olsson, McManaman
Saints: Forster, Gardos (Elia 25), Fonte, Yoshida, Clyne, Bertrand, Schneiderlin, Wanyama (S Davis 46), Tadic (Long 74), Mane, Pelle
Subs not used: K Davis, Targett, Ward-Prowse, Djuricic